Scarlett Johansson received a lot of criticism when she agreed to become the spokesperson for the West Bank based corporation SodaStream, one of the more highly visible companies being targeted by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. Ms. Johansson's promotion of SodaStream conflicts with her role as a Global Ambassador for Oxfam. Oxfam published a statement praising Johansson's past work while pointing out its disapproval of her role as SodaStream spokesperson.
Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors. However Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.
We have been engaged in dialog with Scarlett Johansson and she has now expressed her position in a statement, including stressing her pride in her past work with Oxfam. Oxfam is now considering the implications her new statement and what it means for Ms Johansson's role as an Oxfam global ambassador.
Johansson responded to the criticism with a column in Huffington Post in which she expressed her desire for a 2 state solution in which Palestine and Israel lived together in peace. The following is my response to her column.
Dear Ms. Johansson,
Whether you like it or not, you have now become entangled in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the boycott debate that surrounds it. You want a peaceful two state solution in the near future. So do I. Unfortunately, I cannot say the Israeli government wants one. If the Israeli government truly wanted a two state solution then it would halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These settlements are making it more and more difficult to for the Palestinians to put together a reasonably contiguous state of their own. Many knowledgeable people think we have already passed the point of no returns. Others think we are just months or possibly a year or so away from that point. But the Israeli government keeps on building. On January 10, the Israeli government announced it would build another 1877 housing units beyond the Green Line. No wonder former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert said:
" A government which announces the construction of 5,000 new housing units is not conducting serious negotiations for peace."
Ms. Johansson, I believe you are a good person who wants to do the right thing. You are also in a position where your voice means something. You can do a lot of good. And as Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility." Your first responsibility is to learn as much as you can about the conflict and why the boycott movement is growing. Here are my suggestions for you to begin your education.
You can start by watching the three following movies:
My neighborhood: a documentary of how ultra-religious Jews are forcing Palestinians out of their homes in East Jerusalem
Five Broken Cameras-An Oscar nominated film documenting peaceful Palestinian resistance to Israeli land theft.
The GateKeepers: Another Oscar nominated film in which six former heads of the Shin Bet reveal their dismay at the Israeli occupation.
Next, I recommend you learn about right wing religious settlers and their terrorist attacks against the Palestinians in the West Bank. Though the Israeli government says it abhors these attacks, it has done almost nothing to stop them. Please read this column by Larry Derfner to get a better understanding of what you will almost never hear about in the American media:
Reading Derfner's article will break your heart, and it may cause you to question if something has gone wrong with Israel's soul. That's why I next recommend you read Peter Beinart's Book, The Crisis of Zionism. Though Beinart is against boycotting products and organizations within Israel's Green Line, he makes a compelling case that boycotting West Bank products is just the medicine that can save Israel's soul. Though I don't know Beinart personally, I'm sure he would be happy to discuss the issue with you if you have any questions.
Next, if I may be so immodest, I hope you will read this article I wrote. It is mainly about how Israel is trying to push us into a possibly unnecessary war with Iran, but it also provides more evidence than I can present here that the current Israeli leadership has no intention of negotiating in good faith to reach a two-state solution. My article also discusses the close relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Iranian conflicts.
And finally, please read this column where Larry Derfner explains how the BDS movement is beginning to wake up the Israeli public to the necessity of negotiating a two state solution with the Palestinians. Though the Israeli government wants to annex most, if not all, of the West Bank, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement MIGHT force the government to negotiate seriously.
The West Bank will be a festering sore for decades if Israel and Palestine do not negotiate a two state solution. You are delegitimizing the BDS movement by endorsing SodaStream and thereby unwittingly endangering the best chance Israel has to save itself.
Educate yourself. Then speak out. I am a nobody. My voice means nothing. But you have a big platform. Your voice will carry far.
Update Jan. 30, 2014: Amidst great controversy and rumors that Oxfam was about to cut its ties with Johansson, Johannson has resigned from her position as an Oxfam Ambassador in order to continue her relationship with SodaStream.